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Showing posts with label smoke. Show all posts
Showing posts with label smoke. Show all posts

Sep 3, 2009

Buddhism Offerings

Altar Offerings

In every Bhutanese home, a place is reserved to make offerings to the Three Jewels, the Buddha, Dharma and Spiritual Community. The Three Jewels are often represented by a statue or thanka painting, a scripture and a stupa or a reliquary object. Before them is space to set up a set of standard offerings, represented by bowls of water, and the occasional torma ritual cake or other offerings of food. The water in the bowls would be changed every morning. For a practitioner, such offerings provide a basis for transformation into unsurpassable offerings.

According to the Buddhist scriptures, all the faults in the universe are the result of sentient beings’ disturbing emotions. Instead of dwelling on the faults to be seen in our offerings, but imagining them as pure and faultless, we create an imprint for purifying our minds of obstruction and defilement. Therefore they are imagined as pure and beautiful as possible, incorporating the best of everything existing in the past, present and future and the ten directions of the universe. The exalted beings to whom we make offerings do not apparently consume the physical substances before us. Nevertheless, as a basis for acquiring merit, such physical offerings should be clean, made of the best substances, attractive to ourselves and acquired through honest means. Consequently, they will form a better basis for imagining perfect offerings.

When preparing to make offerings, we should begin by meditating on the wisdom of great bliss and emptiness, imagining it has taken the form of the offering. When making the offering, we should think of it as empty of intrinsic existence. 1n this way, we purify the offering of its ordinary aspects and also purify our minds. We should abandon any thought of immediate benefit, especially in relation to ourselves in this life. It is also important not to entertain doubts about the quality of our offering and whether or not it pleased the exalted being to whom we presented it. Instead think that the deity’ rejoiced at the offering and generated great bliss from partaking of it.

Seven Water Bowl Offerings

The traditional set of offerings, commonly represented by bowls of water, derives from the customary offerings presented to an honoured guest in ancient India. The first bowl contains clear water for the newly arrived guests to drink. The water should be imagined as pure as nectar and offered in vessels made of precious substances. In the second bowl is water for the guest to wash his or her feet; a reminder that in India people walked barefoot. In the third bowl are flowers, reminiscent of the crowns of flowers offered to women and the garlands offered to men. Masses of fragrant, beautiful flowers can be called up in the imagination. In the fourth bowl is incense, an offering to please the sense of smell. In the imagination billowing clouds of fragrant incense are offered. The fifth offering, pleasing to sight, is bright light commonly in the form of a lamp, which like the sun and the moon illuminates darkness. This light is imagined to be so clear that you can see even the smallest atoms without obstruction. Sometimes coloured lights are offered and imagined to be emanating from nectar. In Bhutanese tradition different colours are believed to have various healing properties. Coloured or not, the light offered should be very clear. Light is imagined as dispelling the darkness of ignorance. Shariputra, the Buddha’s main disciple renowned for his intelligence, had, in a previous life, offered a bright light before a stupa. As a result he was reborn with great intelligence. The sixth offering consists of a bowl of scented water. Intended to soothe the mind, it is applied at the heart. Seventh is an offering of food, commonly in the form of a torma or ritual cake. In India, this offering traditionally contained three sweet substances: molasses, honey and sugar and three white substances: curd, butter and milk. In Bhutan, these would be mixed with tsampa or parched barley flour to make an offering cake. The result is like ambrosia, pleasing in colour, form, smell, and taste. Eighth is an offering of sound. It is not represented on the altar, but can simply be imagined as beautiful music.


Incense offering, or Sang-sol, is a ceremony performed by Bhutanese from all walks of life to mark important events in their lives. A widespread national custom, it can be preformed individually or in groups, on occasions such as the annual ceremony, festivals and also at big mountain pass or preceding other important events.


It is not clear whether the Bhutanese custom of offering incense originated in India or not, as only two references to such practice can be found in the Indian texts. It is mentioned in the Guhyasamaja Tantra that one should know about the three kinds of fragrance. The other reference is to be found in the story of Bhadri of Magadha, which tells of how she invited the Buddha to her house and made offerings of smoke to him from the roof.

According to the writings of various scholars, it seems that incense offering was carried out in Bhutan from the very early times when the teacher Tonpa Sherab, founder of the Bon religion, first came from Zhang Zhung (Afghanistan/Tadzhikistan?) to spread his doctrine in Bhutan.
The oldest extant text on incense offering, dates back to the eight century, when the Indian master Padmasambhava came to Bhutan and built Samye monastery. This manual, containing detailed instructions on how to preform the ritual, was then hidden by him to await discovery at some appropriate juncture in the future. Several centuries later, two Treasure masters (tertons), one from northern Tibet and another from the south, discovered and revealed it. based on this Treasure (terma) text many Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya lamas composed the incense offering.

The Ritual

The Incense offering should be done in the morning on a clean and elevated outdoor site, free of insects., either on a hill or the top of a house and inhabited by many local gods and nagas. If performed during a festival, all the inhabitants of a locality may assemble and, at the end of the offering, stand in a row and throw a handful of tsampa (roasted barley flour) in the air. As this is usually a happy occasion, a dance often follows. In the summer, incense offering is often associated with picnics on top of mountains.

It is closely linked with the hanging of prayer flags from trees or tall poles, especially on the third day of the new year, but also on other auspicious days. The incense should be burned in a large urn-shaped burner (sang-khun) and should not have been trampled by people or animals. Wood, not coal, should be used as fuel and the substance to be burned as incense should be fragrant, such as the leaves of fern or juniper, or the branches of coniferous tree, rhododendron, and red or white sandalwood. In addition, tsampa, butter, sugar, and medicinal plants, and other substances free from the taint of alcohol, onion or garlic are burned.
When offering incense, people should examine their motivation andreflect that by making this offering to lamas, meditational deities and religious protectors, they will accumulate merit, which they should dedicate to the benefit of all sentient beings. If they have any specific requests, such as prayers for longevity or the removal ofobstacles to religious practice, they should be made at this point.

Prayers Flags

Next the practitioners take refuge, meditate on the four immeasurable wishes, love, compassion, joy, equanimity, and visualize themselves
as deities.